Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Monday, March 17, 2008

Caprese Salad: The Only Way To Enjoy Fresh Mozzarella Di Bufala Campana

The weather was glorious today in San Francisco with crystal clear skies, cerulean blue waters and warm golden sunshine.

I felt like I had been transported to some warm weather clime along the Tyrrhenian Sea, away from the spectacle of American politics, away from the burst of the real estate market bubble, where few people had ever heard of Dow Jones Averages, Senate Committee hearings or Barry Bonds; and the farmer's markets aren't trendy places to see and be seen but a bona fide way of life.

Yup, today I felt like I was on a magic carpet ride to here:

La bella Napoli.

Can't you see the resemblance around the eyes?

Sure they have the legendary Mount Vesuvius, a jealous, capricious goddess in the Avellino region of Campania that could wipe out their entire bay area as completely as she did Pompeii and all we have is somewhat timid Mount Tam where a capricious cyclist could wipe out a hiker if he were jealous of his right of way.
But these tragic incidences would both be relatively comparable in terms of sheer disaster. I mean, it would be just as catastrophic for that poor hiker to go tumbling off a high cliff into oblivion as it would be for Naples to be buried in a pile of magma & ash, wouldn't it?
Oh well, maybe not.

My point is the day was so warm & lovely it made me feel like eating a lovely salad named after Capri, an island off the Sorrentine peninsula in the Gulf of Naples. It is, of course, Insalata Caprese a.k.a. the Caprese Salad.

Actually, all I really wanted was the fresh mozzarella.

Not just any old fresh domestic mozzarella sold under Italian names, even if they are made by cheese-loving Italian immigrants fresh off the boat. I wanted imported mozzarella di bufala campana, the undisputed emperor of fresh mozzarella, accept no domestic bovine substitutes. No matter how long they've had them soaking in briny water; manufactured domestic cow's milk mozzarella cannot compare with it's richer, creamier, fuller tasting buffalo milk cousin.
Sorry, Belgiosa, Belfiore, Mozzarella Fresca, Gioia's Burrata, and all the rest. You just can't cut it. Anyone whose says domestic cow's milk fresh mozzarella comes close or is better than the original has either never tasted fresh buffalo mozzarella or is a moron.

Granted, the Italian import must be purchased & eaten practically the moment it hits the store's refrigerator shelves; but all you have to do is find out from your cheese purveyor when the shipment is due.
There is this technological marvel known as the jet freight which flies these cheeses in soon after they are produced. Find a shop with lots of clientele clamoring for product like Cheese Plus, A.G. Ferrari, The Cheese Board, etc. & you will find fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella, if you get there early. Hell, even Whole Foods has it.

BTW, Why are there no American made fresh mozzarella di bufala. Isn't the West where the buffalo roam & the deer and the antelope reign?

I know as a society our collective tastes tend to lean a bit to the homogenized and the pedestrian but there is an ever-growing movement of foodies, producers & purveyors with more sophisticated palates than their 8 year old children. Can't they figure out a way to get the milk from the buffalo before they grind the poor dears up for hamburger patties? Just asking....

For me the only way to eat a fresh beautiful piece of mozzarella di bufala is simply, purely.

Nothing comes between me and my mozzarella di bufala.

No bread, no salt, no pepper. Just thick coins of creamy, custardy cheese from the producer Gustosella of Fresca Italia with a splash of the purest, unrefined olive oil you can find and a salad fork.
Some say the oil must be from Sorrento but, hey, I'm no food Nazi, a little handcrafted Balzana from Figueroa Farms of the Santa Ynez Valley is just fine. It's March not August, so I just garnish it with cherry tomatoes & fresh basil for artistic effect without really eating the garnish.

Heavenly, Heavenly. Like billowy clouds of fat and lactose.
Doesn't that sound so appealing? It would if you could taste these ambrosial curds.
If there were a cheesy rendition of the Atkins Diet I would wholeheartedly advocate it and be an active participant in marketing it.

I feel that our founding fathers would have included the consumption of mozzarella di bufala in the Bill of Rights if just one of them had been Italian. But sadly, the Continental Congress was chock full of WASPs. Nary a true continental man among them.

Photograph:George Washington (middle) surrounded by members of the Continental Congress,  lithograph by Currier & Ives, c. 1876.
Could Georgie be expounding on the virtues of mozzarella di bufala?

Benji Franklin & TJ (Jefferson) were francophiles but what the hell do the French know about fresh curd, anyway? They won't eat a cheese until it's been buried in a cave for a few years to be resurrected only when it is redolent with eau de smelly armpits.

Even then it can't be eaten until it's oozing with penicillin and resembles a dead Brit.

(.... and, Mr & Mrs. Smarty Pants, don't talk to me about chevre. It's a totally different animal. Figuratively, as well as literally!)

Disclaimer: I love French cheeses including chevre. I also adore the British with their wily wit, their brilliant accents and amazing architecture. Let's make this clear, I want none of Her Majesty's subjects ever to be injured in the cheesemaking process.

Anyway, let's see what all this fuss is about:

Pretty isn't it?

Look at that composition!
Can you see its custardy goodness and savor those sweet aromas?

Come on, take a good look...

Can't you feel it's luscious delicate curds melting in your mouth?
Coating your tongue with a creamy kiss....


Dammit, have you no Eyes? No Mouth? No Soul?
Be the cheese.... close your eyes, dear reader, and be the cheese.

Are you really trying?

Now sink... deeply into the milk, immerse yourself into the cool white bath
Come on now....
.... You're not being the cheese!

Look at it again.... rivulets of fruity oil nestled in its billowy bosom.
How can you resist it?

You know you want it..... now taste it... before Mistress loses her patience!!!

There, now, didn't that feel good... Mistress didn't hurt too much, did she?

You owe that organic orgasmic experience to:

Worth every penny!

Out of Town Relatives? Here Are Twenty San Francisco Treats They'll Eat Up!

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Living in this great metropolis by the bay has it's civic responsibilities.

The most important of which does not involve voting in political elections, serving on juries, recycling, riding on public transportation or carrying our own reusable shopping bags.


These things may have their uses in most civilized societies but in San Francisco they must take a backseat to the Bay Area's citizen's gravest, most time-honored tradition.

They must give way to the thing that makes this city great; the most important aspect of residing in the 415 area code; the very backbone of this beacon of golden light and civilization in the Western United States.

You know what I'm going to say, don't you. Of course you do!


Yes, each one of us has the solemn duty to act as personal concierge for every family member or the acquaintances of every family member that come to visit our fair Gotham.

Those of us who are single or married but childless are doubly bound to act in our capacity as this city's ambassadors.

We are not a volunteer army.
Oh no, we are drafted into the position by a vigorous and demanding committee of aunts, uncles, cousins, stepparents, parents and their ilk. We cannot threaten to move to Canada because chances are the posse would follow us to our exile, anyway, and we'd be stuck with even higher income taxes and no Kara's Cupcakes.

So, we must not only be fonts of knowledge about the latest greatest restaurants likely to please the diverse (and sometimes pedestrian) palates of our guests; but we must also be acting tour guides with a wealth of information on the fascinating facts of San Francisco's storied history ("Hey Lori, who was that Milk toast guy who got shot by Fidel Castro?" or "Where are those Rice a Roni trolleys that go down that crooked street?") while providing mountains of Ghiradelli Chocolates and Sourdough bread bowls for all.

While I don't mind assisting the occasional foreign tourist with directions to Chinatown or trying to discern the meaning of their questions ( I once had a young French couple come up to me, hands waving frenetically, brows deeply furrowed as the gentleman ejaculated, "Steve MAkeen, Steve MAkeen. BOOlet! BOOlet!" while pointing questioningly at the various slopes around him on Russian Hill. Querying me, or so I gathered, on where the famous car chase scenes in Steve McQueen's movie "Bullet" were shot. ), catering to the dietary requirements of friends and family does have its pitfalls. They are more likely to complain about your choices for them than enjoy your company.

It loses its charm quickly. For all of us. I'm lucky because our family are eaters and willing to give anything a try but they are on vacation, San Francisco is a beautiful place and it's incumbent on me as the resident to provide a hospitable environment which is fairly easy to do in this city as long as I don't think too far outside the box.

Spring is upon us, with summer to follow. These are the prime houseguest months for the spring and summer breaks, so gird up your loins and get ready to rumble. It's tourist season, baby!

That being said, there are places in town that are always crowd pleasers. I'll not bother mentioning Alcatraz because your guests will anyway. The same goes for Lombard Street.
You may be bored to tears; but, if your guests are between the ages of 8-85, are not hipsters and have never been to San Francisco before, these places are probably perfect for them (unless they are foodies, of course, but that's for a different post). Some of the places are downtown because, hopefully, your guests are staying in a hotel and not with you.

These spots have been selected for their views, unique locations and proximity to San Francisco tourist attractions. They all have large menus and/or a variety of options which is particularly important if, and this is often the case, your guests food preferences are not immediately known to you (if, however, you know someone is vegetarian and likes Indian Food, you don't need me to recommend Dosa). These options are all tried and true with mid-range concepts and prices but by all means do take them to your favorite joints, too. Just don't ask them to eat sweetbread gratin, braised beef tendon and tripe stew unless they are offal enthusiasts.

Some of the restaurants have food that is fairly mediocre or just o.k. (meaning uninspiring & average; not bad tasting or inedible) but they are good in a pinch, have great locations and will not terrify your mid-western guests. Coi, Orson or even Spruce would be too intimidating for many of them. Remember this post is for a non-foodie, middle American demographic. I have successfully entertained many non-foodie baby boomer and depression era relatives with these options. What that actually says about me is too terrifying to contemplate, so we'll move on.

Here are some of my recommendations and the links to their websites in no particular order of preference:

  1. Cheesecake Factory: Huge menu, chain restaurant with edible food good for kids, views of Union Square with outdoor seating (killer wait at peak times; not good for the impatient)
  2. Cliff House: Huge menu, edible food that's especially good for breakfast, views of the Pacific Ocean, &, sometimes, surfer dudes
  3. Izzy's Steakhouse: Huge portions, edible food with Izzy's cheesy potatoes always a good side , views of Marina Yuppies
  4. Fog City Diner: Huge booths, edible food, site of an '80's Visa commercial
  5. Il Fornaio: Huge Italian menu, edible food for a chain, views of Levi Plaza with an outdoor garden room
  6. In-N-Out Burger: For better or worse, it's become synonymous with California if your guests are of a certain age (under 20) & it's on Fisherman's Wharf, you'll be killing two birds with one stone. Be sure to visit the sea lions on Pier 39 and pass by the "Bush Man" if you want to give your mother-in-law a coronary incident.
  7. Mamacita: Likely to be one of the only restaurants you'll really love on the list, huge pitchers of Margaritas, great Mexican food and so loud you'll never hear your stepmother complain about the noise, the spicy food or anything else. Every Eastcoaster I know wants to try "real" Mexican food. This will satisfy their Mexican jones & finally give you something yummy too.
  8. Waterbar: Amazing views, pretty room, good service. Excellent classic seafood restaurant to take the parents or in-laws. Few palates will be displeased. The food is fresh, simple and straight forward and they'll get a kick out of all the little Kuleto flourishes like the floor to ceiling aquarium columns.
  9. The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus: Ladies who shop lunch place; food underwhelming but solid classic American. The amuse of chicken consomme & fresh hot popovers with strawberry butter are bound to please mom or auntie. They always love that stained glass dome, too.
  10. Yank Sing: Dim Sum is always a fun experience for newbies and Yank Sing has a huge variety of it. It's off Market but you could still incorporate a jaunt through Union Square to Chinatown to walk off the calories. They'll be too tired from food and walking to hang around Chinatown shops for too long and you can check another thing off the list.
  11. Sam's Anchor Cafe: Every tour of San Francisco winds up with a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep on going until you get to Tiburon & drive to Blackie's Pasture, park the car, take a look at the bronzed Blackie (a horse) and walk to Sam's if your guests are energetic. It's a beautiful walk & Sam's has great outdoor seating on the Marina with stellar views and decent chow. Then you can avoid all those silly shops in Sausalito that guests spend hours traipsing through but never buy anything from.
  12. Japanese Tea Garden: Unfortunately, it's the rare mother-in-law that really enjoys sushi beyond a California roll. To let them experience a little of the Japanese culture in the city, take them instead into Golden Gate Park for tea at the Japanese Tea Garden. It's quiet, pretty and reflective and allows you to drive through the lovely park. Combine it with a trip to the DeYoung Museum and don't forget to show them where the buffalo roam. If they do like sushi then take them to your favorite place but avoid the tatami mat seating if you go to Ebisu unless your guests are young and flexible.
  13. Ben & Jerry's: There are scores of better ice cream shops in the city but none of them are on the historic corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets. This is not about you. Out of town baby boomers and their kiddies will love to get their scoop of Wavy Gravy or Cherry Garcia from there. So suck it up, go and walk around the Haight. It's fun!
  14. Ghirardelli Square/Westfield San Francisco Centre combo: No trip to San Francisco is complete without a cable car ride. It's an integral part of the original San Francisco treat, Rice A Roni, "that flavor can't be beat..." Here's my recommendation, start at Ghiradelli Square in the late morning, walk around, avoid the lines for eating in Ghirardelli's Ice Cream Shop but let them browse if they insist & suggest a Kara's cupcake instead since you'll be eating lunch soon, go to Aquatic Park watch those crazy swimmers splash around in 52 degree water, brave the lines for the cable car with your trusty cupcake in hand to help you get through the wait, ride the cable car to the end of the line. Get off and go across Market to the Westfield. Let everyone gawk at the homeless & the looneys in disbelief (hopefully that Asian guy, Frank Chu, with the sandwich board is out there predicting the end of civilization). Enter the Westfield & let the roaming begin. Walk through Bristol Farms. Maybe you can catch a movie? Maybe you can eat lunch at Out the Door or one of the other many higher end food court spots. There's something for everyone to buy or eat.
  15. San Francisco Ferry Building: Farmer's Market days are especially fun but anytime is a good time to go to this historic Embarcadero building. Food options are endless with MarketBar and Mijitas being the easiest to get tables for; but, Taylor's Automatic Refresher, Boulette's Larder, Hog Island Oyster Bar and , of course, The Slanted Door (you'll really need a reservation if you want to eat there) are all there; among others. It's a great place for a quick snack, too with all the chocolate shops (Michael Recchiuti, yaay!), gelato, caviar, sausages on a stick, Acme Breads, Lulu's Sandwiches, Cowgirl Creamery, Starbucks, that little tea shop, wine bar etc, etc. Hell, you can even hop a ferry ride on a bay cruise, to Tiburon or to Sausalito.
  16. Exploratorium: great for children of all ages located in the beautiful Palace of the Fine Arts. Tons of hands on exhibits and experiments. The tactile dome, if it's still an exhibit, is quite an experience but not recommended for claustrophobics.
  17. Giant's Stadium: Last I heard it was Pac Bell Park but I haven't been there since last season, so it may have changed names & ownership by now. (It might be AT&T Park this year?) Whatever the name, it's still visually arresting and very intimate in scale for a stadium; if you can get tickets for your guests, do. Just remind them to dress warmly. Even a sunny day is chilly there. It's still worth a trip even if you just drive by.
  18. Presidio Social Club: The food is not cutting edge, half the time it's no better than what you can get at the prepared food section at Whole Foods; but, the portions are generous, the atmosphere is vibrant, the tables are huge and the desserts (as well as the cocktails) are very good. Best of all it was an old army barracks, it has parking and it's in a park-like setting. Scratch that, it is in a National park , the Presidio. Most out-of towners will feel at home with the Retro-American comfort food and will be impressed by the unique setting.
  19. Sociale: The setting is pretty, the food is unintimidating, upscale rustic Italian. The neighborhood will be a nice relief from the cacophonous, bustling downtown area; offering your mom and dad a different view of San Francisco.
  20. Zuni Cafe: Judy Rodgers' famed eatery is a classic American diner with a little French twist. It will keep everyone in their comfort zone & you can buy your aunt the cookbook as a parting gift. Try to include a trip over to the landmark Castro Theatre & catch a revival. It's beautiful, it's in a famed part of town & chances are your guests will have some great story about what they observed in that part of Gay Old San Francisco to take back to Wichita Falls with them.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's Cooking For Easter?

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Easter is coming and I am really conflicted.

Not because I'm an atheistic ex-Catholic who left the church of Rome 32 years ago (& all other belief systems that involve omniscient, omnipotent invisible Cranks who get their rocks off by seeing how much havoc Their little jokes wreak).

My own fallout with Great Almighty Powers That Be occurred as a result of the Archdiocese of N.Y. rejecting my petition to be an altar girl at St. Lucy's.

That I would have been the first altar girl in the history of the Roman Catholic Church seemed irrelevant to me at the time.
The important thing was that I was brutally rebuffed by several levels of the Church hierarchy (as a 10 year old girl with great aspirations growing up in East Harlem, "no" was a word I took to mean, "Try harder" not "Stop, you annoying pipsqueak!"). Needless to say, it took many rounds to knock me out; when they finally did, I vowed never to step into that ring again.

Exit devout Saint-worshipping Catholic school girl. Enter, cynical iconoclastic Atheist who took every opportunity to ask during our neverending catechism classes, why Jesus didn't have a girlfriend.

I was a Mary Magdelene freak. You know, the proverbial whore with a heart of gold who quit doing tricks to wash Christ's feet. I chose her name for my confirmation.

Lori Ann Magdelene G__.

There's a future Pulitzer Prize-winning name, if ever I saw one.
I figured MM & the Savior were probably getting jiggy with it. He was a man after all, even if He was a god incarnate. Sometime between turning the water to wine and curing lepers, I figured he needed to release some tension and let his hair down. It's not easy being the son of God. The father-son talks alone would be enough to raise your cortisol levels!

But I digress... yes, my conflict is not caused by the age old question of the existence of God or the legitimacy of Jesus the Nazarene as His only son; I don't care about any of that.
Nope, my real dilemma is what to serve for the Easter spread.

While some might think it odd or hypocritical that I still celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I say that I am enlightened & open-minded besides I'll never let a little thing like religious dogma get in the way of a good foodfest.

No, I just flat out love to cook & Easter gives me as good a reason as any to celebrate the rites of Spring. I could say, I suppose, that I'm celebrating the rebirth of the Goddess or some such other fib; and, though that may garner me many fans here in Baghdad by the Bay where the only openly accepted Catholics are Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence, paganism doesn't excite me either even with its promise of drunken orgies (or is that only in the movies?). I'm not Marxist but I think all organized religions are nothing more than opiate for the masses and I prefer my opiates to be of the fermented phenolic variety enjoyed in the sanctity of my home ( or the other places of worship, the Three Star Michelin variety, a truly holy trinity to us, the worshippers of the Divine Dish).

I'll leave now while I ponder the virtues of grilled racks of lamb over braised shoulder or roasted leg. Or the purity of asparagus tarts over asparagus sformato. Yes, there are profound questions to be asked.

However will I find the answers?

(Now, I know why people pray.)

All and any ideas are always welcome.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Giada De Laurentis: The True Domestic Goddess

I may lose tremendous street cred for posting this; but, now that I think of it, I have none to lose so why not just go ahead and speak my piece?

Giada De Laurentis is a goddess!

Yes, her teeth are frighteningly white and, yes, she is always baring them (as well as the rest of her anatomy; displayed in sharp relief with her daring decollete); yes, our husbands are all too prone to take a sudden interest in the Food Network Channel when channel-surfing if she's on the air saltim-ing her bocca, but, don't hate her because she's beautiful!

The woman can cook.

She does it simply with decent technique and makes her food accessible to all. I'll be damned if the food doesn't almost always look as good as she does!

Giada had an episode that I caught once called "Cooking for Beginners" that made me ashamed of my so-called lazy gourmet recipes. Her trout en papillote (she calls it fish & veggie pockets for this episode, see what I mean about her trying to be user-friendly), fusilli alla caprese & sugar cookies with a chocolate ganache center were masterpieces of ease & flavor. The ingredients were minimal, the preparation spartan, & the dishes looked more than just edible.

Will these recipes make her a James Beard winner or garner her Michelin Stars if she had a restaurant? No, but she's not trying to do that.

Giada has become the patron saint of home cooks (I wonder when El Papa will make it official) and she oversees her domain with a dazzling smile & a great rack which is why I call her the true domestic goddess. (Sorry, Nigella). She has a knack for distilling recipes down to their essence & taking shortcuts that are sensible to the home cook without overly compromising the overall quality of the dish. I have made dishes like these zillions of times but never considered adding them to this blog's recipe files. It took someone with Giada's sensibilities to make me realize that this is precisely the kind of home-cooked fast food people who are not accustomed to cooking can & would make for themselves. They are simple & elegant.

I'll post a link to that Everyday Italian episode for beginning cooks to inspire those who are slightly intimidated by their Wolf ranges: well worth a glance, I assure you.

Unfortunately, Food Network has no pictures to go with the recipes & I'm not fond of taking photos of other people's ideas no matter how simple even if I did cook the recipes myself (unless I'm reviewing a restaurant). However, I may break down, cook her food as written & take shots anyway, so that there will be images to go with this episode's recipes. (Nothing gets the gastric juices flowing like a little food porn.)

I wish Food Network had a video of this episode I could upload because a picture paints a 1000 words & I must say I was impressed with a few of her simple, sensible tips which are not as effectively communicated in her written recipes because they can't be. Seeing it is almost always more deeply imprinted in our minds than reading it. It's just an extra dimension of reinforcement. Do read them & then try them. They are simple, yummy & easy to embellish, if you are so inclined.

Here are the links:

Fusilli alla Caprese

Italian Fish and Veggie Pockets (Fish en Papillote)

Black and White Cookies

Happy Cooking! P.S. since I first wrote this posting the savvy Food Network people have put up photos of the dishes. So now you can see what the results should approximate.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dessert, The Lazy Way: Individual Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecakes

I read a wonderful post today from the blog of Chef Laurent Gras, formerly of Fifth Floor, now head chef/co-owner of his latest culinary venture in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago, L.20 (as in el-two-oh), an upscale seafood restaurant along the lines of Le Bernardin (much as I hate classifying Le Bernardin as a "seafood" restaurant; making it sound like a glorified Red Lobster when it is, in fact, an experience in the sublime).

It was about inspiration in it's various forms (click on the title of this post to read Chef Gras' very brief exposition on this subject & others as well as an update on the new restaurant's construction). It's an interesting glimpse into the creative and practical side of culinary achievements; without one view of bad haircuts or one expletive emanating from a sad hack with Tourette's Syndrome.

(Can you tell I watched the first Top Chef Season 4 episode last night?)

After reading the L.2O blog, I was inspired. It wasn't necessarily by the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas or the fluid lines of a Galliano gown but by the idea that great beauty whether it is in architecture, nature, art or literature can give one such great aspirations. Such a desire to live & breathe & find in ourselves some spark of the divine, however small.

It made me want to look at the mundane, everyday objects we see around us in a new light. A golden light. It made me want to transform disparate things into a unified, glorious whole that would be better than the sum of its parts.

In short, it made me want to bake.

BAKE???? WHAT???

Yes, bake.

I took a look at the few items in my refrigerator & pantry that have languished for so long; unused and underappreciated. A hunk of chocolate, a brown egg, a block of cream cheese, a tub of mascarpone and some leftover dregs of french pressed Major Dickason's blend.

"From this", I thought as Laurent Gras inspirational images whirred in my head, "I will create!"

And so I have..... recipe to follow, in the meantime here are some images of the process and the finished product:

The main ingredients

The texture of the cream cheese after the initial whipping & before adding the other ingredients

The first rough chop

The texture of the chocolate after incorporating the first 1/2 cup of the batter

The ramekins filled with batter in their bain marie just before baking

Individual Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecakes

Note: Cheesecakes like banana bread, fruit crumbles, biscotti, muffins and the like are great things for the pastry challenged like me to undertake. This recipe is much easier than it looks at first sight. I guess when you give this recipe a first glance and then see 14 instructions; you'll think I'm crazy for calling it "Lazy".
What makes these little cheesecakes "lazy" are that they have no crust. Instead, I finely chop some toasted almonds & sprinkle them on the center of the plate and around the perimeter of the little cake. It acts as a de facto crust, saves you some calories & is much cleaner tasting then the tired nut or cookie crumb crusts that usually afflict the bottom of a cheesecake. This cheesecake resembles the N.Y. style more than any other. That means dense, slightly chalky & tongue-coating in texture. I didn't use sour cream which is an essential for good N.Y. style cheesecake, but you can add it if you like; just be sure to subtract an equal amount of the mascarpone from the mix.

I use ramekins that are well-greased with baking spray and lined with little circles of parchment paper; but, you can use plain vegetable oil or butter instead. This recipe makes 4 little cheesecakes in 4.5 oz. ramekins but the recipe can easily be tripled and poured into a 9" springform pan just be sure to increase the the baking time to 55 or 60 minutes, if you go that route.

I've said this before but I'll say it again: It's really important that you have an oven thermometer always hanging in the center of your oven so you know the actual oven temperature. They are cheap & easy to find. The timing and finished results of all your baking & roasting is dependent upon the correct temperature. The only way you'll know if your oven is the correct temperature is to measure it. The only way to measure it is with an oven thermometer. Enough said.

I beat everything by hand because I love whisking things but it requires that you set all of your ingredients out at room temperature for a minimum of one hour before beating; longer if like me your refrigerator is set at 38 degrees F & your kitchen is cool (I left my stuff out for almost two hours before the cream cheese was soft enough). You can use a large food processor or standing mixer, if you prefer.

You can do this the really lazy way & just add 2 oz. of dark chocolate syrup or Nutella to the cheesecake batter instead of melted chocolate. These prepared foods have emulsifiers & tons of sugar so you'll have to adjust the sugar & egg content to compensate. That might be less rewarding than just melting semisweet chocolate chips which I recommend doing if you'd like to save some time & effort.
Otherwise, use a good block of dark chocolate from Valrhona, Caillebaut or Sharffenberger. Use a serrated knife to shave the chocolate easily and evenly into small, meltable shards. I chose to chop the chocolate but I am notorious for doing things the hard way (just ask my husband, the poor guy). I can't help it. Insanity runs in my family.

  • an 8oz. block of cream cheese (do not substitute whipped cream cheese)
  • 4 oz. of mascarpone (1/2 tub) plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of strong French press coffee or espresso
  • 2-1/2 to 3 ounces of dark chocolate, shaved then melted & warm (you can melt chocolate chips instead of block chocolate)
  • 1 ounce of roasted almonds, chopped finely (for garnish)
  • 6 fresh strawberries, hulled & sliced (for garnish)
  • ground cinnamon (for garnish)
  • agave nectar (to drizzle over garnish of mascarpone & strawberries)
  1. Set rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Prepare ramekins according to the note.
  4. Whisk softened cream cheese in a large stainless steel bowl until light & fluffy. (See image above recipe.)
  5. Slowly add the sugar, a little at a time, whisking it in well to fully incorporate. Now add the mascarpone, whisk it in until mixture is homogeneous; followed by the flour; adding only a little of the flour at a time & whisking well then add the egg, beat into mixture well & finally the vanilla.
  6. Next we temper the chocolate.
  7. Set aside about 1/2 oz of the shaved chocolate. Then melt the remainder of the chocolate in a medium-sized moisture-free microwaveable bowl by using short 30 second bursts of the microwave until the chocolate just begins to soften. (About 2-1/2 to 3 rounds in the microwave but times can vary from machine to machine)
  8. As soon as the chocolate begins to soften, stir it slowly with a rubber spatula until the residual heat melts the chocolate then add the remaining shards of chocolate to the melted chocolate; stirring them in well to melt them in. The chocolate should be warm, silken & glossy. (If it has cooled too much, and begins to harden throw it in the microwave for another 20 seconds & stir well).
  9. Add 1/2 cup of the cheesecake batter to the melted chocolate, folding it in & stirring it well to fully incorporate (see my photo of the chocolate texture above the recipe). Then add the coffee to the chocolate mixture. Stir well. Add the chocolate mixture to the rest of the cheesecake batter & fold it in until the mixture is completely homogeneous.
  10. Spoon mixture, dividing it evenly, into the four prepared ramekins. Place ramekins in a roasting pan, allowing ample space between ramekins. Give the roasting pan a couple of quick small drops on the work surface to remove any air bubbles that may have formed in the ramekins while spooning the batter in. Fill roasting pan with hot water until the water level reaches the center of the ramekins (see photo above).
  11. Bake for 25 minutes until sides are puffy & center is firm but slightly jiggly. Remove the ramekins from the oven. Carefully, run a paring knife dipped into hot water around the perimeter of each cheesecake to facilitate removal from the ramekin later, and place in a draft-free area on a wire rack to cool for an hour. When room temperature, wrap them well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
  12. When you're ready to plate them, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of finely chopped almonds in the center of each serving plate, carefully run a paring knife dipped in hot water again around the perimeter of the ramekin, invert the ramekin on your open palm or onto another plate (not the serving plate), give the ramekin a gentle tap all around its bottom with the knife, & carefully unmold.
  13. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake & carefully place the cheesecake over the center of the chopped almonds.
  14. Add a dollop of mascarpone (that you've given a quick whisk to) over half of the cheesecake, top with strawberries & additional chopped almonds, add a few slices of strawberries to the plate, drizzle the strawberries and the mascarpone with a little dark agave nectar & a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Ode to Cricket Cola: It's The Real Thing!


WHERE have I been for the past few years?

WHY is Tuesday the first time I have ever tried this modern marvel?

WHEN was this green (in every way, literally & figuratively) soda put on this planet?

Simply put, I (HEART) Cricket Cola.

WHAT e=mc2 type came up with this modern reinvention of the nasty dusty old wheel that is today's carbonated beverage?

WHO cares?

I do and so should you. Run, don't walk, to your nearest Real Foods & buy some! Or order it at Pacific's Catch on Chestnut St. for lunch like I did. SOON.

Try it!
You'll like it!

Have another look:

What a formula for deliciousness!!!
Genius, pure, genius.

The makers of this new elixir are very much on the Q.T.
All we know for certain is that they started this cola revolution in San Francisco & D.C.

Do they wear funny helmets, swing flat bats and run back & forth endlessly between wickets to score points? No wonder they won't post any information (or thankfully any pictures) about themselves on their website!

Or.... are they really giant Gryllidae who have come here by way of the eighth dimension released from inter-dimensional captivity by a massive collision involving Mount Tam and a Jet Car equipped with Buckeroo Bonzai's volatile oscillation overthruster? If so, watch out, they may take over the world!

If they do, I won't care as long as they keep producing this beneficent beverage (provided, of course, no insects were harmed in the making of it) which as their website modestly claims:

What more can you ask for?

Oh, BTW, Congrats to San Francisco for having the safest tap water in the country!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Whining About Your Wines? Mind Your Tongue: Introducing.... The Budometer.

Last Friday, the Wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle ran a great piece about the science of winetasting. Today the Washington Post has run it, too.

Yes, I said the science NOT the art.

Read here for an interesting controversy stirring up in the highest echelon of the wine sphere where it's quite possible to now show that the greatest wine gurus of our time may not be the best judges of what a great wine is.... at least not for you!!!

Click here, to take the Budometer taste test yourself & see why you may prefer white zinfandel to red Bordeaux and it has nothing to do with money or class distinctions (well, maybe a little). The reality behind why certain connoisseurs rate particular types of wine higher than others may both surprise you and make you feel better about yourself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Lazy Gourmet Strikes Again...

Grilled Chipotle-glazed Pork Tenderloin Tacos with Caramelized Onions & Fresh Guacamole

Lots of headlines in the news today: Elliot Spitzer's "Slush Fund" Blunder. The N.Y. Gov got caught with both his pants down and his hand (not to mention more delicate parts of his anatomy) in the cookie jar because he was arrogant enough to ask the bank to mask his pimp payments to the only prostitution ring he used so much, he didn't crack down on. The bank refused to cover up the gov's naughty bits... the rest is history. If he had stuck to food porn, like I do, he'd probably still be governor.

Then, we have the cheerful news that California and Oregon are fresh out of wild salmon which means the Pacific Northwest wild salmon season is over before it began. It appears the salmon have run.... away from our rivers and streams. Oh well, there's always Alaskan salmon which will now cost $99 lb. and at least San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has made sure that all those health-conscious, calorie counting Big Mac eaters know the exact number of protein grams in every super-sized order of fries they eat! There's your tax dollars at work for you. Bravissimo!

One good thing (for reality foodie tv fans, anyway) is the premiere of the long-awaited Top Chef Season 4 in Chicago featuring several SF bay area cheftestants this go-round.
What! you're not familiar with this show and the thrill of watching a bunch of Wolfgang Puck wannabes stab each other in the back with their 9" chef knives? You don't know what you're missing!!!
Apparently, reality tv vet & chef cutie extraordinaire, Rocco DiSpirito will be conducting the first "Quickfire challenge": Deep dish pizza.
Exciting times, Exciting times!!!

To add some further thrills and chills to your day, The Lazy Gourmet strikes again!!! Adding a little cooking & dining pleasure to your busy lives. It's a pork taco cooked in a stove top grill topped with caramelized onions and fresh guacamole. All of it quick and easy to make with an active cooking time of 15 minutes; despite the three steps: marinade, guacamole, cooking. The marinade & guacamole is easy to make and tastes so much better than the packaged stuff.

You start by making the marinade which is no harder than taking the ingredients listed below (& pictured here, as well) and mixing them with a fork in a small bowl; then chuck the pork tenderloin in a Ziploc bag with the marinade, zip the lock & massage the marinade into the pork through the bag. No fuss, no muss.

Chipotle Marinade
  • two chipotle chilis in adobo, minced into a paste
  • 1 tablespoon of reduced sodium soy
  • 1 tablespoon of jerez sherry vinegar (or a mild apple cider or rice wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (don't substitute fresh garlic, it will burn when you grill it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil (it's high smoke point makes it good for grilling)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil (just for a little flavor, it's low smoke point makes it bad for high heat cooking)
  • 1 lb. of pork tenderloin

While the pork marinades, you thinly slice a sweet red onion or two, toss them in a medium-hot pan that's been anointed with olive oil, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Not much instruction is needed, other than to remind the cook to keep the heat moderate and give the onions an occasional stir while you prepare the guacamole & the rest of the meal.
Make the guacamole after you start the onions.

Caramelized Onions

  • heavy bottomed saute pan
  • 1-1/2 sweet red onions
  • olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan
  • freshly ground sea salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/8 cup of verjus de perigord ( green grape juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of reduced sodium soy
  • the juice from 1 wedge of lime

Note: People seem to think that guacamole is some mysterious, complex food to make. Nothing could be further from the truth. All it takes are ripe avocados, another handful of ingredients & a dinner fork which I will list somewhat obliquely in the pictures that follow.

One thing does puzzle me though: where does it all go? Somehow, it seems to magically disappear from it's bowl about 2 minutes after I serve it. I can tell you that if I sliced & diced up 4 avocados, a few diced grape tomatoes, 1/3 of a very finely diced onion, the juice of half a lime, a very finely minced clove of garlic, a jalapeno (minced with ribs and seeds removed first), a handful of chopped cilantro, a tiny squirt of sriratcha, a little sea salt & pepper and just threw it all in a dish without mashing it up....

Like so...

... no one would eat it that quickly; if they ate it at all. But, somehow, through the alchemy of mashing those same avocados and mixing all the salad ingredients into it, the mess that is guacamole is endowed with umami qualities so irresistible humans just can't stop eating it!

(Just wanted to illustrate how easy it is to release a perfectly ripe avocado from it's skin. You just peel it with your fingers. It's a fruit, after all, with a thick peel, treat it like one & you'll have no problems with it!)

When the guacamole is done, you set your grill pan on medium-high to heat up and brush it with a heatproof (silicone) basting brush dipped in grapeseed oil or some other neutral tasting oil with a high flash point.

Now let's finish the caramelized onions which should be quite soft & brown by now (if you set them to cook when I suggested). You deglaze the onions pan with some verjus de perigord (green grape juice sold at most good bay area markets) or beer and let it cook down; when it does, you then add a splash of soy sauce (less than a teaspoon) with a grinding of fresh black pepper & a squeeze of fresh lime juice; stir it all in and set the pan on the cooktop's lowest setting while you cook the pork or turn it off if it seems to be burning. We want the onions caramelized not charcoaled!

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then remove your pork tenderloin from the bag, place in the hot pan & brush the top with a little more of the marinade. Grill the pork on your stove top grill pan (my fave is Le Creuset) which takes 12-15 minutes for a 1 lb. tenderloin: starting with five minutes on one side until charred grill marks appear; then flip over & cook another 4 minutes on that side; cook it 4 minutes more on the third side & another couple of minutes on the last side.

Remove it from the heat, letting it rest on the cutting board for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute evenly through the meat. While the meat rests, wrap your tortillas in foil & throw them in the pre-heated oven directly on the rack to heat for five minutes. I am loving these sprouted corn & spelt tortillas. Great flavor & texture and safe for people with wheat allergies!!!

Slice the pork on the bias, against the grain into 1/2" thick medallions. The pork should be pink in the middle.

Add the pork and any accumulated juices to the warm pan of caramelized onions increasing the heat to medium high & combine the onions with the pork. This will both cook the pork further for those who are still frightened of medium rare pork and flavor the pork with the caramelized onions sweet yummy goodness.

Remove the tortillas from the oven & just set them next to the pork on the range top with the guacamole & let everyone serve themselves directly from the pan to assemble their pork tacos.

Buen provecho!

This recipe should serve four but the two of us never have any leftovers!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

San Francisco: One Perfect Night & Day with the One You Love... A Happy 11th Wedding Anniversary

It was a perfect Saturday afternoon on the 8th of March in the 2008th year of the Gregorian calendar.

A beautiful day for a wedding; and, we had one.
11 years ago,
on the beach along the California coast that overlooked the same ocean but a different bay near Carmel appropriately known as Monastery Beach.

We eloped, if you can still call it that after living together for eight years.

We stayed at the Lodge (Pebble Beach) and had two very surprised friends in tow as witnesses who had no idea why we were so dressed up that afternoon. I, in my little ivory colored St. John purchased in secrecy especially for the occasion, and Garrett looking very dapper in his dark blue Zegna suit.

Our pals had on khakis, polo shirts & sneakers; having stepped right off the plane from New York and ready to hack a few golf balls around the course until we ambushed them into attending our wedding.

Garrett & Dave were taking part in their second annual two-man team amateur golf "world championship". Sally & I weren't golfers then but tagged along, to shop, eat, ride horses, take pictures, workout, spa etc.
I thought it might be fun to throw a little marriage ceremony in.
You know, to break up the monotony.
It did!

11 years later, still married, still on the left coast in San Francisco and still loving it! The marriage and the city, that is; though, not always in that order. :>)

This year the celebration started early with a walk by the bay for me & a hike in the Presidio for the hubby; after which we met up by the benches at Lita Vietor's View in the sunshine and picnicked overlooking the spectacular North Bay vistas with two of our favorite sandwiches from Lucca Deli on Chestnut which we shared equally, "halvsies, halvsies" as the hubby cutely puts it.
(The sandwiches were turkey & provolone with roasted sweet red peppers and avocado on Dutch crunch; rare roast beef with fresh mozzarella, olive oil and more roasted sweet red peppers on Acme sweet as well as Lucca's yummy vinegary potato salad with fresh dill)

View of Golden Gate Bridge & Marin Headlands from Crissy Field

After lunch, a little shopping expedition at the nearby Sports Basement, the former army px turned sporting goods store, for a few sporty essentials then back home for a refreshing nap before dinner and the ballet.

A few words about that evening:

Jardiniere: the best service and most delectable duck preparation in the city, bar none!

When I tell you that we had a 6:30pm dinner reservation (tried a month ago to get it earlier and no dice, too many others were also attending the ballet that night) and had to attend an 8pm performance, you could imagine how fraught with tension that dinner could have been.

I did call ahead to explain our predicament (which I'm sure occurs much more than Jardiniere would like) and was told what I already knew: the kitchen conducts its pace at two hours for a two top. But I was both tenacious and very apologetic, so the hostess said she would note it on our reservation and they would do their best to comply.

Jardiniere's upstairs dining room

A world-class dinner in less than 90 minutes?

They did it!!!

They did it with aplomb, grace & wit! We did our best to help by ordering quickly & decisively but the staff at Jardiniere not only realized our needs but fulfilled them in such a way that we felt as though we had a leisurely meal (which included a loan of reading glasses directly from the incredibly gracious and hospitable sommelier) plus a few lovely chats about food & other pleasures with our very capable server. We even had time for dessert (the fab Dulce de Leche flan with fresh cinnamon sugar coated churros & jalapeno gastrique).

We each had a glass of Henriot rose champagne, starters (perfectly seared scallops with ample slices of Perigord black truffle for me, beet salad with spiced Marcona almonds for hubby) a bottle of '02 Marcassin Three Sisters Pinot Noir , the entrees (Wagyu ribeye for him, San Francisco's most amazing duck breast delicately seasoned with five spice powder replete with toothsome crust & unctuous meat, did they sous vide it? if they did how did they get that crust???? for me) plus dessert in 75 minutes and never a rushed moment! Incredible!

Needless to say, we will be returning for Traci Des Jardins' tasting menu very soon; so that we can eat there properly; but, I must say, I can't imagine it getting any better in terms of the kitchen's expediting, the servers solicitude and charm, or the quality of the food served. My only quibble was that the Wagyu ribeye, a humongous slab of beast that was originally ordered by moi, was slightly overcooked more medium than medium rare with a slightly "off" flavor vaguely reminiscent of used dish rags but my husband didn't detect it and very gallantly switched dishes with me. The duck breast, on the other hand, was out of this world!!!

It had been far too long since I had eaten at Jardiniere. When Traci Des Jardin was at Rubicon, I enjoyed many meals there including hostessing my husband's company Christmas party. When Ms. Des Jardin initially opened Jardiniere with Pat Kuleto in 1997, we followed her there (X-Mas party included) but over the past several years what with one place & another opening, I have ignored this Civic Center classic despite the James Beard awards, despite the Iron Chef appearances.

I've already booked two dinners there for the next month and half. Jardiniere deserves to be revisited and often!!! It is everything a restaurant ought to be! I'll be in a better position to describe the latest experience there and review it properly next month. Stay tuned!

The San Francisco Ballet's 75th anniversary season is in full swing and it is spectacular!

Yuan Yuan Tan & Damian Smith in SF Ballet's Program 5

We saw program 4 last night. (Couldn't find pictures of it on the internet yet)
The program offered:
An evening of tributes to the choreography of Jerome Robbins with three suites:
Fancy Free, a jaunty character-driven balletic rendition of "On the Town" with music from Leonard Bernstein;
Into the Night, with three nocturnes from Chopin, and three beautiful pas de deux with some of the company's finest principals (Yuan Yuan Tan, Lorena Feijoo, company choreographer Yuri Possokhov);
and finally, West Side Story, a Robbins ballet suite of the musical so rambunctious and energetic that I was cheering like I was at the Super Bowl not the War Memorial Opera House. When ballet corps member, Shannon Roberts as Anita started singing and dancing, "I Want to Live in America" I thought I was watching a young spicy sassy Rita Moreno on the stage not a fouette' turning, toe pointing, chignon-wearing ballerina. Hips were flinging, heads were tossing, the prevailing mood was wild and reckless. Fun, Fun, Fun!!!

I'll be back there next week to watch Program 5 which offers a very different look at this versatile company. You should go, too. Program 4 with the West Side Story suite will only be offered until March 20th. This company is finally getting the worldwide acclaim they deserve due to the efforts of Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson & Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov with exciting works, superior staging, incredible scenery and a cast of principals and soloists (plus its young corps) who are truly poetry in motion.

All in all, a perfect day and one that could have occurred only in San Francisco. Where else could you in the course of a sunny 68 degree winter's day walk by the beach & picnic for lunch and then have an early bird gourmand special before going to see a world-renown ballet in the space of twelve hours. Not too many places, I'm so happy to live here!

(The photos of the Bridge are courtesy of my iPhone since the Sony camera is still ailing but they look pretty good, huh?)

Photo of wine glasses